European Union We Need Verifiable Proof Peng Is Safe

China says Peng Shuai is okay, but the European Union ain't buying it -- with the organization demanding "verifiable proof" the tennis star is not in harm's way.

Peng disappeared earlier this month after accusing powerful Chinese politician Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault ... but popped back up recently during an interview with the International Olympic Committee and making an appearance at the Fila Kids Junior Tennis Challenger Finals.

There are still many questions surrounding Peng's well-being ... and on Tuesday, the EU made it clear it's not satisfied with the current "proof" that's been provided thus far.

"Her recent public reappearance does not ease concerns about her safety and freedom," an EU spokesperson said Tuesday, according to the AP.

"The EU joins growing international demands, including by sport professionals, for assurances that she is free and not under threat." the EU said.

"In this spirit, the EU requests the Chinese government to provide verifiable proof of Peng Shuai’s safety, well-being and whereabouts.

The EU also calls for a full and thorough investigation into Peng's claims against Zhang.

"The EU strongly opposes the use of the practice of enforced disappearance and arbitrary detention...and calls upon China to comply with its human rights obligations under national and international law."

Many have spoken out about Peng recently ... from the Women's Tennis Association to Serena Williams to Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic.

Tennis Star Peng Shuai Insists She's Okay During Video Call W/ IOC

Tennis star Peng Shuai told International Olympic Committee officials she's not in danger during a video call over the weekend, insisting there's nothing to worry about, but the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) is still concerned about the star player.

The 35-year-old former #1 ranked doubles player in the world seemingly vanished around 3 weeks ago after accusing a powerful former Chinese politician of sexual assault on social media.

The post was taken down ... and Shuai wasn't heard from for weeks. Then, top tennis players like Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka, and Novak Djokovic took notice -- along with the WTA -- and demanded action.

Cue the 30-minute Zoom call ... with IOC prez Thomas Bach, and 2 other officials.

"Peng Shuai thanked the IOC for its concern about her well-being. She explained that she is safe and well, living at her home in Beijing, but would like to have her privacy respected at this time. That is why she prefers to spend her time with friends and family right now," the IOC said in a statement issued following the call.

After they spoke, another IOC official said they were convinced the 2013 Wimbledon doubles winner was safe and healthy after the call.

"I was relieved to see that Peng Shuai was doing fine, which was our main concern. She appeared to be relaxed. I offered her our support and to stay in touch at any time of her convenience, which she obviously appreciated."

But, not everyone's content with the call. The WTA, which has done an incredible job demanding answers from Chinese officials, still have concerns over Peng's safety.

"It was good to see Peng Shuai in recent videos, but they don't alleviate or address the WTA's concern about her well-being and ability to communicate without censorship or coercion," a WTA spokesperson told ESPN.

When asked specifically about the IOC's Zoom call, the WTA spokesperson said, "This video does not change our call for a full, fair and transparent investigation, without censorship, into her allegation of sexual assault, which is the issue that gave rise to our initial concern."

After not being seen or heard from for weeks, Peng's been more visible lately. In addition to the video call on Sunday, Shuai was also seen at a tennis tournament in Beijing on Saturday.

Question is ... is Peng being coerced, or is she truly free?

Serena & Venus Williams Petting Sharks in the Bahamas ... On Heels of 'King Richard'

Serena and Venus Williams are taking their new Hollywood shine in stride -- and that stride led them straight to the Caribbean.

The Williams family was in the Bahamas this weekend, with several folks from their brood in tow -- including their mom, Oracene, Serena's husband, Alexis Ohanian, and their daughter, Olympia.

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We're told they came in by yacht and docked at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club -- where they took part in some neat sightseeing... including shark petting nearby.

As you can see ... Venus and Serena were getting down in there to pet and feed the nurse sharks, but funny enough ... we're told Serena was actually kinda freaked out -- although she worked up the courage to make contact.

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Looks like they did a lot more than just this -- there's photos and video of the family snorkeling and enjoying the gorgeous surrounding water. Well deserved, too, after their big movie drop this week.

ICYMI ... their film about their father, "King Richard," got released this weekend -- to rave reviews, no less. Nothing like basking in the sun after a victory as sweet as that!

Peng Shuai Tennis Star Seen in Public ... Skeptics Still Uncertain

Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai has resurfaced -- so it appears -- after being MIA for weeks.

Peng was front and center at a Beijing tennis tournament Sunday ... an event sponsored by the China Open.

The 35-year-old former doubles champ is wearing a dark blue blazer as she poses with guests at the Fila Kids Junior Tennis Challenger Finals.

The photo was posted on the org's WeChat page.

Peng had not been seen since November 2, when she accused former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli of sexually assaulting her. The 2 had an on-again-off-again relationship over the years.

The allegation had swift consequences ... Peng's social media post -- where she made the accusation -- was deleted and China's censored media ignored the story.

What's unclear ... whether the photo is part of a staged event and is Peng being held hostage. She has not freely emerged and spoken since she made her allegation.

The Women's Tennis Ass'n has made it clear ... they will not play in China until Peng's fate is clear. Members of the group are skeptical that the picture shows Peng posing of her own free will.

There have been other photos that have surfaced as well ... which show Peng having dinner Saturday night at a Beijing restaurant.

Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic have spoken out on the disappearance of Peng.

Naomi said, "Hey everyone, not sure if you've been following the news but I was recently informed of a fellow tennis player that has gone missing shortly after revealing that she has been sexually abused."

"Censorship is never ok at any cost, I hope Peng Shuai and her family are safe and ok. I'm in shock of the current situation and I'm sending love and light her way. #whereispengshuai"

Even Novak Djokovic the world's #1 ranked tennis player spoke out, saying, "When I heard the story of Peng Shuai I was shocked. I hope she is well and that we can find her as soon as possible."

Serena & Venus Williams Movie About Dad Criticized as Sexist Despite Them Being EPs

A movie about Serena and Venus Williams -- focusing on their dad teaching 'em tennis -- is, apparently, getting blasted as sexist ... even though they're literally the ones behind it.

Count this as the biggest bad hot take of the week ... and Twitter mostly agrees -- this person seems to be woefully misinformed on the making of "King Richard" -- not to mention the real-life history of Serena and Venus in general -- which stars Will Smith as their father in the titular role, and sees a young Serena and Venus turning into sports prodigies.

A woman named Dr. Jessica Taylor laid into the fact that this flick was more about their pops than them, per se, which she found insulting for some reason ... and to which she expressed outrage, almost on their behalf.

She writes, "Did they seriously make a film called ‘King Richard’ about the success of Serena and Venus Williams - but it’s about their dad, Richard?" What Dr. Taylor fails to realize, it seems, is that Venus and Serena are executive producers of the film.

So the "they" she's referring to here is actually VW and SW ... and the internet let her know about it, with one person responding -- "Venus and Serena wanted it that way. They are literally the executive producers of the movie. Please sit down somewhere"

Unclear if this message got through to the good doctor, because she followed up with yet another equally tone-deaf remark ... saying, "I get this has annoyed people but I genuinely didn’t expect a film about two of the most powerful, successful and amazing black female athletes to be named after a man, or centre a man."

She adds, "I would have loved this film to be all about them, and not a man. That’s it really." The implication, in our eyes, is that there's sexism afoot with the way it's presented.

Of course, what Dr. Taylor, again, does not seem to understand ... Serena and Venus are obviously onboard with this approach to the film, as it's one they wanted to tell and even signed on to shepherd. They've spoken about this in interviews, too, saying they wanted to highlight the role their father played in their lives -- and the gratitude they feel for his hard work.

Funny enough, there are other film critics who are coming to the table with the same POV as this Twitter user -- finding fault in the fact that Will gets most of the shine, and not the girls.

Like we said ... bizarre reactions all the way around, but at least it's getting the movie some pub. The film is out in theaters and HBO Max right now -- and word is, it's pretty darn good.

Tennis Star Peng Shuai China Foreign Ministry 'Not Aware' Of Disappearance

The Chinese Foreign Ministry continues to claim they have no idea what happened to tennis star Peng Shuai ... who suddenly vanished over 2 weeks ago after accusing a powerful Chinese official of sexual assault.

Zhao Lijian, ministry spokesperson, was asked about Shuai's disappearance, telling media ... the situation is "not a diplomatic question and I'm not aware of the situation."

FYI, the Chinese Foreign Ministry deals in all things foreign policy for the country. The Foreign Minister is typically one of the most powerful posts in China.

Peng accused former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, who is in his 70s, of sexually assaulting her 3 years ago at his home in China.

Just minutes after going public with the allegation, the social media post was deleted. Peng has not been heard from since.

There's been widespread concern for Peng's safety ... and some of the biggest tennis stars in the world have spoken out.

Serena Williams recently wrote ... "I am devastated and shocked to hear about the news of my peer, Peng Shuai. I hope she is safe and found as soon as possible. This must be investigated and we must not stay silent. Sending love to her and her family during this incredibly difficult time. #whereispengshuai"

Current stars Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic also expressed fear over her well-being ... as did legendary player Billie Jean King.

To make the story even more bizarre, Chinese state media released a statement, SUPPOSEDLY written by Peng, where the Wimbledon doubles champ retracts her previous statements on the sexual assault, adding, "I am not missing, nor am I unsafe."

In the statement, Peng also claims ... "I've just been resting at home and everything is fine."

Bottom line, almost no one believes Peng wrote the statement.

To their credit, the WTA (Women's Tennis Association) has doubled down since the suspicious statement was released, calling on independent proof that the tennis player, one of the countries biggest athletic stars, is okay.

“The statement released today by Chinese state media concerning Peng Shuai only raises my concerns as to her safety and whereabouts,” Steve Simon, WTA Chairman and CEO said.

He continued ... “I have a hard time believing that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email we received or believes what is being attributed to her.”

Even the United Nations Human Rights Office called for a transparent investigation into Peng's disappearance.

"It would be important to have proof of her whereabouts and well-being and we would urge that there be an investigation with full transparency into her allegations of sexual assault," a UN spokesperson told reporters in Switzerland.

Naomi Osaka Addresses Missing Chinese Athlete Disappeared After Accusing Politician Of Sex. Assault

Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic -- 2 of the greatest tennis players alive -- are speaking out on the disappearance of tennis player Peng Shuai ... who suddenly vanished after accusing a powerful Chinese politician of sexual assault.

"Hey everyone, not sure if you've been following the news but I was recently informed of a fellow tennis player that has gone missing shortly after revealing that she has been sexually abused," the 4x Grand Slam winner wrote on social media.

"Censorship is never ok at any cost, I hope Peng Shuai and her family are safe and ok. I'm in shock of the current situation and I'm sending love and light her way. #whereispengshuai"

The case is disturbing. Shuai -- formerly the #1 ranked doubles player in the world -- hasn't been seen in nearly 2 weeks after she claimed Zhang Gaoli, a powerful, retired politician sexually assaulted her around 3 years ago.

Gaoli was at one time the vice premier of the People's Republic of China ... making him essentially 2nd in command of all of China.

In Peng's post, the former Wimbledon and French Open winner accused Gaoli -- with who she admits to previously having a sexual relationship -- of inviting her to Beijing to play tennis with him and his wife. However, after the game, Shuai claims the situation took a frightening turn, alleging the 70-something-year-old politician pressured her into sex.

The disturbing post was removed shortly after it was posted by Peng. She has not been heard from since.

Stars from across the tennis world, including Billie Jean King and Chris Evert, have raised concerns over Peng's whereabouts.

Even Novak Djokovic, the world's #1 ranked tennis player spoke out, saying, "When I heard the story of Peng Shuai I was shocked. I hope she is well and that we can find her as soon as possible."

Peng is still missing ... and many people around the world are calling for answers.

Genie Bouchard Cheers On NFL 'Bae' From Cancun ... In Tiny Bikini

Mason Rudolph didn't get the victory for the Steelers on Sunday -- but don't worry, he's still clearly winning off the field ...

Here's the Pittsburgh QB's GF, Genie Bouchard, cheering on her man all the way from Mexico ... in a tiny bikini.

The tennis player posted the spicy pic in the middle of Pittsburgh's game against the Detroit Lions, writing, "When bae is playing but ur in Cancun."

She added a heart emoji while tagging Rudolph.

Of course, the support didn't equal a win for Mason on the field -- he struggled in the Steelers' 16-16 tie against the Lions -- but we're sure it was appreciated nonetheless.

We broke the story, Genie began dating Rudolph over a year ago ... and hasn't been shy about her affinity for the Steelers since.

She's been spotted at Rudolph's games -- and after going IG official with the signal-caller in February -- she's rocked Pittsburgh gear while traveling too.

Rudolph might need more love from GB going forward -- Ben Roethlisberger's status for next week is up in the air after his positive COVID test -- here's to hoping Genie keeps providing it!

Serena Williams Pumped For Naomi Osaka's Return ... 'Gonna Be Amazing!!!'

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Even if Naomi Osaka's return to tennis means more competition for Serena Williams ... the G.O.A.T. tells TMZ Sports she's still stoked for the 24-year-old's comeback!!!

"Oh my goodness," the tennis legend said out in Beverly Hills. "It's gonna be amazing. I can't wait."

Osaka has been away from the game for months -- dealing with mental health issues -- but she just recently returned to the practice court and was all smiles while out there.

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Osaka made it appear like a return to competition was close ... 'cause she showed a zoomed-in shot of a tennis ball that featured the Australian Open's logo on it (which would mean she'd be back by January).

Even if that means Serena will have to beat Naomi for a title (Osaka has beaten Serena 3 out of the 5 times they've played) ... it ain't hard to see she's glad the competition is back -- and healthy.

We also asked Serena about the upcoming movie, "King Richard," a biopic about the Williams sisters' father, Richard Williams -- and she promised it would be a great flick.

"It's a story of inspiration," she said. "It's totally inspiring. I love it."

One of Hollywood's most dynamic actors -- Will Smith -- plays the Williams' sister's father in the film -- which is set to release later this month.

Naomi Osaka Tennis, Anyone??? ... Returns From Hiatus

She's baaaaaack!!!

After 2 months away from the sport, Naomi Osaka has made her return to tennis ... posting shots on the court to announce her comeback after a 2-month break.

"kinda rusty but feels good to be back 🎾💕," she said via Instagram on Friday. "I really want to say thank you everyone for all the kind messages, I really appreciate it ❤️."

The 24-year-old pro said back in September she intended to step away from the game to focus on herself after an upset loss at the U.S. Open in September ... admitting wins made her feel more relief than happiness.

Osaka was #3 in the world at the time ... and now, she's sitting at #13.

The superstar looks happy on the court while throwing up a peace sign and a smile ... which means she might be ready to get back to competing here soon.

As we previously reported, Osaka has been outspoken on her battles with mental health ... previously boycotting the media at the French Open, which resulted in a fine.

LEFT IN TEARS

She also backed out of Wimbledon earlier this year to focus on her personal time.

Worth noting -- Osaka also posted an up-close shot of a tennis ball with the Australian Open logo on it ... so maybe we'll see her back competing in January?!?

Mardy Fish My Wife Helped Me Overcome Anxiety ... Saved Me From 'Bad Place'

ESCAPING THE MENTAL PRISON
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Tennis legend Mardy Fish says he might not be alive if it weren't for his wife ... crediting her with getting him out of a really bad place with his mental health struggles.

Mardy joined us on "TMZ Live" Tuesday and got real with us about some of his bouts with anxiety, which became so overwhelming at one point he pulled out at the last minute from a big U.S. Open match with Roger Federer .... years before professional athletes opened up about their mental health struggles.

The way Mardy tells it ... his better half, Stacey Gardner, was able to pull him out from a dark place and change his perspective with some sage advice at a moment when he was having panic attacks every single day. The epiphany gave him the strength to withdraw from the 2012 U.S. Open match he was supposed to play. Instead, he faced the media and was candid about his issues.

Mardy went on to champion mental health and how it affects athletes in particular, who traditionally were trained to bottle up their emotions because it was viewed as weakness.

Mardy, who was diagnosed with severe anxiety disorder, is now mentoring young tennis players dealing with some of the same issues he went through ... and there's a new Netflix documentary on his journey, "Untold: Breaking Point."  He's also the captain of the U.S. Davis Cup team.

MF says it's encouraging to see other athletes -- like Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles -- speaking out about their own inner battles ... and tells us why it's OK for folks to let others know they aren't OK.

Andy Murray I Found My Wedding Ring!!! ... Lost It In Sweaty Shoe Theft

RING REUNION

10:24 AM PT -- 10/8 -- Great news ... Murray is now out of the doghouse -- 'cause he says he found his wedding ring!!

Andy says after making calls to security -- the shoes, along with his priceless jewelry, were recovered.

"Would you believe it?" Andy said in a social media post late Thursday. "They still absolutely stink, but the shoes are back. The wedding ring is back. And I'm back in the good books."

"Let's go!"

Phew.

Andy Murray will certainly be kicking himself for a while … ‘cause the tennis star says his wedding ring was stolen -- and it's all 'cause he left it out in public with some sweaty shoes.

SHOE SWIPERS
@andymurray / Instagram

Murray detailed the debacle on his social media page Thursday ... explaining he had to ditch his tennis shoes underneath his car overnight after a workout because the kicks were so sweaty and smelly.

The problem ... Murray had forgotten he had tied his ring to the shoes (he weaves it into the laces because he can't play with it on his hand) -- and when he says someone swiped the pair overnight, he lost his priceless jewelry!!

"When I got back to the car in the morning the shoes were gone," Murray said, adding, "Yes, I know I'm an idiot and in hindsight it seems like a terrible idea."

The 34-year-old is now begging the public to help him get his ring back ... admitting his wife, Kim, ain't pleased with him one bit over it all.

"Needless to say, I'm in the bad books at home," Murray said. "So I want to try and find it. So if anyone can share this or may have any clue where they may be would be very helpful so I can try and get it back and get to the bottom of it. It would be much appreciated.”

No word if there's lead on a suspect ... but seems clear if he can't find it -- he's going to have a lot of kissing up to do Kim when he gets home.

Originally Published -- 10/7 12:03 PM PT

Tom Brady, Simone Biles We're So Influential ... Named To Time 100 List

Winning Super Bowls and Olympic medals works wonders for your clout ... 'cause Tom Brady and Simone Biles are on Time's list of most influential people once again.

Of course, the esteemed list highlights the biggest activists, innovators, athletes and artists each year ... and in 2021, several sports stars were honored with the recognition.

Joining TB12 and Biles are Team USA gold medalist Suni Lee, tennis superstar Naomi Osaka, USA track legend Allyson Felix and L.A. Angels pitcher/slugger Shohei Ohtani.

Biles also graces one of the 7 different covers for the magazine ... which features a touching writeup from Serena Williams on the gymnast's highly publicized mental health battle at the 2020 Tokyo games.

"What she embodies truly reflects the endless potential of Black women." Williams says. "I wish I had her to look up to when I was younger and trying to realize my dreams."

"By living her truth so loudly and by championing mental health, she is setting new standards of beauty, strength and resilience, breaking down today’s image-obsessed stereotypes and encouraging others to do the same."

"Simone is a shining example of what success looks like when you let go of what the world thinks and gather your strength from yourself ... from your soul."

Biles has clapped back at her haters multiple times after backing out of the team competition at the Olympics ... but now that one of the GOATs has spoken, that may silence them once and for all.

Naomi Osaka Meltdown at U.S. Open ... I'm Taking a Break from Tennis

Naomi Osaka had a disastrous match Friday ... repeatedly losing her composure and ultimately losing her U.S. Open match ... and she says her future in tennis is now uncertain.

Osaka won the first set against 18-year-old Canadian Leylah Fernandez ... but things unraveled for her in the second set. She threw her racket 3 times and when she lost the set she walked off the court.

The defending U.S. Open champ returned and the crowd began to cheer for Fernandez. Naomi shockingly double-faulted right out of the gate and ended up losing the match.

Naomi broke down in tears during a post-match interview, making it clear how much she's struggling and saying she's taking a break from tennis ... "I feel like I'm at this point where I'm trying to figure out what I want to do, and I honestly don't know when I'm going to play my next tennis match." In other words, Osaka herself has now made it clear ... her future in tennis is uncertain.

As you know, Osaka recently pulled out of the French Open and took a pass on Wimbledon ... saying she was struggling with depression and anxiety.

Naomi Osaka Gifts Olympic Pin To Young Fan ... Thanks For Cheering!!!

Naomi Osaka just made one young fan's day at the U.S. Open on Monday ... by gifting her a collectible Olympics pin as a "thank you" for showing so much support during her first-round match!!

The 23-year-old superstar advanced to the second round after winning in straight sets just hours ago ... and the little girl was cheering for her the entire time!!

Osaka -- who had an early exit from the 2020 Olympic Games -- said she had a few trading pins left over from her time in Tokyo ... so she decided to give an extra to her biggest fan in the stands!!

FYI -- Olympic pin trading is a tradition that goes back more than a hundred years ... with athletes, reporters and fans all swapping the little items during the Summer and Winter Games.

Osaka was asked about the gesture in her post-match interview ... saying, "I just heard her when I was playing my match and she was so cute."

"So, thank you for cheering me on!"

The camera then showed the fan smiling from ear-to-ear -- at least, we're assuming, 'cause the whole mask situation -- and waving back at Osaka.

"I thought it would be a nice little memory," the #3-ranked player added.

As for the match, Osaka beat Marie Bouzková 6-4, 6-1 ... and will face off against Olga Danilović on Wednesday.

Serena Williams Out Of U.S. Open ... Due To Injury

Huge bummer for Serena Williams -- the tennis superstar will NOT be competing at the U.S. Open next week ... saying it's best she lets her hamstring injury fully heal before returning to the court.

The 39-year-old made the news official on her Instagram Wednesday morning ... saying she thought long and hard about it, but the experts have advised her to sit out the Grand Slam tournament in Flushing Meadows.

Remember, Serena went down with the injury in the first round of Wimbledon back in June ... but her agent, Jill Smoller, told TMZ Sports last month Williams was hoping to be ready in time to compete for a 7th U.S. Open championship.

But, that ain't happening ... with Williams expressing her sadness in a heartfelt post.

"After careful consideration and following the advice of my doctors and medical team, I have decided to withdraw from the US Open to allow my body to heal completely from a torn hamstring," Serena said.

JULY 2021
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"New York is one of the most exciting cities in the world and one of my favorite places to play -- I'll miss seeing the fans but will be cheering everyone on from afar."

It's a massive blow to the tournament -- which was already without big names like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal -- but here's hoping Serena can get back out there sooner than later.

Get well soon!!!

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